Today I speak about the Inner West Bee Club and the threat posed to our agricultural industries by the Government's plan to introduce a flat fee for beehive registration.
This tale serves as a poignant reminder that even the smallest decision government makes can have monumental impacts on our community and, indeed, on our planet. If bees disappear, so do we. Bees pollinate the crops that feed 90 per cent of the world. Without bees, we lose melons, nuts, pumpkins, spices, berries, cucumbers, apples, avocados, broccoli, onions and oranges. We lose those crops and the animals that feed on those crops, resulting in a wave of extinction up the food chain that ends with us.
Around the world, bees are dying at an alarming rate and we should be worried. In the 2015‑16 winter the United States of America lost 28.1 per cent of its bee colonies, Canada lost 16.8 per cent, Central Europe lost 11.9 per cent and New Zealand lost 10.7 per cent. While Australia does not have an accurate measure of bee populations, according to the CSIRO we are particularly vulnerable to bee decline because our agriculture industry relies on feral honey bees to do much of our crop pollination. Bees directly contribute $36 million to the New South Wales of New South Wales and indirectly contribute $4.6 billion to the economy through pollination. Local bees are at risk from pesticides, climate change, invasive species and a range of natural threats, including the Varroa destructor mite.
The greatest protection Australia has against many of those threats is its excellent biosecurity, including an extensive network of sentinel hives nested in backyards throughout the inner west of Sydney. Those bees and their doting beekeepers are New South Wales finest line of defence against invasive species—mites and diseases. The so-called sentinel hives are located around the port and the airport where nasties such as the Varroa destructor mite first appear after jumping ship. They are detected by diligent amateur beekeepers who raise the alarm. Officers from the Department of Primary Industries then manage the hive and alert other beekeepers in the area thereby containing and eradicating the threat. However, for this system to work, it is imperative that our amateur beekeepers register their hives, which keeps the beekeeper up to date with the latest information on outbreaks, and the best way to manage and mitigate the risks.
To date, Australia remains the only inhabited continent to be free of the Varroa destructor mite. We have had near misses. The mite was picked up by amateur beekeepers in Townsville in 2016 and again a few months ago near the port of Melbourne. It is clear we must do everything we can to assist our amateur beekeepers. In so many ways, they are the only thing that is standing between us and real catastrophe when it comes to our agriculture industry. A few weeks ago the Inner West Bee Club contacted me and other inner west members of Parliament, including the member for Strathfield, concerned about some of the Government's proposed changes, which include the ways that amateur beekeepers register their hives.
At the moment the State Government has plans to introduce a flat fee for amateur beekeepers and also to eliminate discounts for seniors. For some beekeepers that will equate to an increase of over 300 per cent. This is just a thoughtless cash grab that will deter amateur beekeepers from registering their hives and therefore actually potentially ripping holes in our vitally important bee biosecurity net. I am absolutely proud to stand with the amateur beekeepers and with the Amateur Beekeeping Association NSW. I call on the Government to abandon its plans for a flat fee of $120 for hive registration at the end of the current freeze period and to allocate more resources to assist our amateur beekeepers, and indeed our local bees because our lives really do depend on it.